Tuesday, January 29, 2013


The Silent Genocide

By dawn, words spread out that my father had passed away. Our neighbors came over to say their condolences and help prepare for his funeral. Some of them brought planks of woods and carpentry tools to construct a coffin while other went to the forest to gather wood and build a pyre to cremate my father’s body. By noon, the coffin and the pyre were ready for my father’s funeral. Because the Khmer Rouge had abolished religion and forbidden all kind of ceremonies, we did not have any ritual conducted for my father’s funeral. When it was time to cremate his body, several people just placed his corpse in the coffin, carried it to the pyre, and set fire onto it. As my father’s body was being cremated, a village elder who was, in his former life, a clergyman (the achar) told my mother to have one of us shaved our head as a gesture of bereavement. I volunteered to have my head shaved. However, my mother insisted that she should have her head shaved as well. So both of us had our heads shaved in front of my father’s funeral pyre. It took the whole afternoon for my father’s body to be burned into ashes. As the flame died down, we poured water onto the pyre and began to pick up the remains of my father’s ashes, put them into an urn, which we buried near the base of a palm tree.
As we returned from cremating our father’s body, Om Po and several of our neighbors had been busily preparing foods to serve the people who came to attend and assist in carrying out his funeral. The village’s authority had given us some rice for the occasion. And with the two turtles my brothers brought from their fishing expedition the previous day, we were able to provide relatively sufficient food for all the guests who came to attend the funeral.
About one week after my father’s death, all my older brothers (except Hong) were called up by the Khmer Rouge authority to join the youth work brigade. They would be away from home for months at a time camping in the fields where they worked. Perhaps out of sympathy, Om Po’s father, Ta Plaok, had secured permission for my mother to work with him and other elderly villagers growing vegetables along the bank of the Staung River for communal consumption. Ta Plaok also used his influence as a village elder to get me to work with him in the vegetable gardens as well, under the pretext that he and a few other elderly men, who had to stay at the gardens days and nights to prevent animals from going into the gardens and destroy the plants, were too old and feeble. They needed me to assist them in foraging for woods and vines to build fences around the gardens as well as climbing up and collecting palm tree sap to supplement their diets.

The vegetable garden was located on the bank of the Staung River about two miles from the village, where an ancient settlement used to be. We built a hut under a grove of mango trees. Some of the mango trees might have been a hundred years old with trunk circumferences as large as an oxcart’s wheel. Amongst the elderly people who were assigned to work at the vegetable garden were Ta Plaok, Ta Chim, Ta Chhong, Ta Kim, Yeay Nhong, Yeay Ngo, and my mother. Ta Plaok, Ta Chim and Ta Chhong stayed at the garden day and night to prevent animals, wild or domestic, from going into the garden, while everyone else would go to work there as day trippers. Occasionally, one of the three elderly men would go to visit his family in the village and spend the night there while the other two stay behind. On my first day of going to work at the vegetable garden as a helping hand, I instantly fell in love with the place; therefore, I asked my mom to let me stay at the garden with the three elderly men. My mom agreed to let me stay there, and I spent about five months working as a palm sap collector and vegetable grower.
During my stay at the vegetable garden, the Khmer Rouge’s round-up of new people for execution intensified. Many families, all of them new people, began to disappear quietly. We were told that they were being relocated to live and work in some faraway communes. But, in reality they were sent to the execution sites somewhere in the region. It appeared that most of the people who were slated for execution were those whom the Khmer Rouge authority deemed unproductive, or they were suspected of working for the previous regime. To keep a low profile, Ta Plaok told me to avoid going into the village too often so that I would be out of sight of the Khmer Rouge’s vigilantes. As a gesture of help, Yeay Nhong, who had just been forced by the Khmer Rouge’s Angkar to relinquish her large home to be used as communal dining hall and lived on a small plot of land about a quarter of a mile from the village, agreed to take my little brother, Buntha, under her wing by having him help her son look after her cows. Hence, no one in our family was around in the village. We all were out and about doing work for Angkar every day.
Administratively, Ponlear Chey Village was divided into three groups. Each group was overseen by a headman. We were living in Group 2 while Aunt Muoy and her husband were living in Group 3. Out of the three groups, Group 1 was the most unfriendly place for new people to be in, for it was overseen by a callous man named Choy, who had the least sympathy for new people. Of all the new people who lived in his group, about two-thirds had been sent away for execution. We were sort of lucky to be dropped off just a few houses away from that brutal man.
Every day my mother would come to tend the vegetable garden early in the morning along with Yeay Nhong and Yeay Ngo and return home to the village late in the evening just before dark. For about five months, she was my only link to the village’s life as to what was going on. Aside from telling me what my brothers, Buntha, Hong and his wife were doing, there was not much else she could divulge to me since my three other brothers, Heang, Sokha, and Sama had been sent to work in labor camps away from home.

One day, as I was climbing a palm tree to collect its sap, I saw my mother tending the vegetables in the garden alone very early in the morning. After climbing down from the palm tree, I walked over to ask her why she came to tend the vegetables alone without everyone else working alongside with her. In a rather upsetting tone of voice, my mother told me that she just wanted to avoid seeing Ta Chim, who had been flirting with her lately. She was afraid that he might act inappropriately toward her. Naively, I asked her about Yeay Ngo, with whom my mother always walked back and forth from the village to the vegetable garden. Couldn’t the two of them swat off Ta Chim’s unwanted behavior? In a somewhat irritated mood, my mother retorted my question with another question of her own: “What could Yeay Ngo do, if Ta Chim decided to rape me?” Speechless, I returned to finish my round of collecting palm sap for that morning with a feeling that my mother was a bit paranoid about Ta Chim’s behavior. However, a couple of months later late at night, I was woken up by a commotion made by someone coming into our hut. It was Ta Chim. He was out of breath and appeared to be in fear. Ta Plaok inquired what was happening to him. In a bombshell, Ta Chim told us that he had just raped a woman and was caught by her little brother in the act. He wanted to kill both of them to cover up his crime but didn’t have the courage to carry out his plan. In a panic, he decided to run away and came here first to seek some advice. After a lengthy discussion, Ta Plaok finally persuaded Ta Chim to stay put and wait until the next morning while he (Ta Plaok) would go to the village to find out how widespread news of the incident had been disseminated.
Ta Plaok went into the village very early in the morning while Ta Chim went to hide in a nearby forest. He (Ta Chim) told me where to find him when Ta Plaok returned from the village. I went about my business collecting palm sap as usual, while pretending that nothing unbecoming had happened last night. Though I was just a kid at that time, I knew full well that the repercussion of Ta Chim’s misdeed could reach far and wide. In the Khmer Rouge’s scheme of legal structure (if such a thing existed) adultery and rape were punishable by death. All involved, including Ta Plaok, Ta Chhong and I, who had the misfortune of knowing what Ta Chim had done and did not report it to Angkar, would not be spared. As luck was to be on our side, the victim went to report the crime to one of the village’s leaders who happened to be Ta Plaok’s relative. After learning of the extent of whom and how many people could be implicated in the death trap, a cover up scheme was hatched. Ta Chim was to stay at the vegetable garden and keep a very low profile. Everyone who knew of the incident must swear to keep it a secret. It was perhaps one of the greatest cover-ups in Ponlear Chey’s history.
(To be continued)

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

40) Royal Procession

I heard that former kings never venture far from his palaces, for fear of political intrigues. The current king is the son-in-law of the previous king. He was formerly a military chief. His wife is the favorite daughter of the previous king; so one day, she was able to steal the gold, regal sword and gave it to her husband. This action caused her brother, an heir apparent, to lose the throne, for without the regal sword, he could not succeed his father. Enraged, the heir apparent plotted a coup, but he failed. He was arrested and thrown into the dungeon with his toes cut off.

The current king wears metal body armor which could not be pierced by knife or arrow. That is why he is not afraid of going out and about. During my stay in Cambodia for over a year, I have seen the royal processions for 4 or 5 times. Each time, when the monarch goes out, there is always a contingent of army leading the procession. Immediately behind the army contingent, there are flag bearers and musicians. Following the musicians are the ladies of the court dressed in floral outfits. Some of these ladies decorate their hair with flowers and hold either large candles or gold trays in their hands. The candles are lit even in broad daylight. There are also some other groups of ladies marching in military formation with weapons such as spears and shields in their hands. Decorative carts drawn by goats and horses were also in the parade.

Leading the procession are court officials and members of the royal family. They all ride on elephants. If one looked from afar, one would see countless red parasols mushrooming over them. Following the court officials are the Queen and concubines riding in carriages drawn by horses or mounted on elephants’ backs according to their ranks and files. Their carriages are covered and surrounded by curtains. After the Queen comes the King who stands in a carriage mounted atop an elephant’s back. In his hand, the King carries the regal sword. The tusks of the elephant carrying the King were decorated with gold rings. Twenty parasols with gold hems were raised around the King. There is also a regiment of armed guards mounted on elephants to provide protection for the King.

If the King went out to visit places within the vicinity of the palace compounds, he would only ride in a carriage carried by his concubines. Whenever the King went out in a procession, a small stupa housing a gold statue of Buddha is carried in front of him. Upon seeing the approach of the royal procession, every bystander must kneel down and lower their foreheads to the ground in a gesture of Sampeah (Cambodian form of paying respect by pressing their palms together). If anyone failed to kneel down to pay respect to the King, he or she would be arrested and sent to jail.

The King holds audience with his subjects twice daily. But there is no agenda as to how many or what matters are being heard. Regardless of social statuses, everyone who requested an audience with the King must come to a designated area and sit prostrated on the ground outside a pavilion to wait for the King to come forth. Once the time for the King to hold audience arrives, a music play would be heard from inside the pavilion. Upon hearing the music, the court officials outside would blow conches in return to signal the people waiting outside that the King is about to receive audience. A moment later, two court ladies raise the curtain to reveal the King who stands on a gold dais holding the regal sword. At that point, all presented before the King must lower their heads and bow down to pay respect to the King. They must remain in that position until the sounds of the conches stop which is a signal for them to raise their heads up. The King would then take his seat in a gold-embossed chair. A royal heirloom rug made of lion skin was placed on the stage. After the King finishes holding audience, he returns to his quarter while everyone stands aside. Although they are not civilized, these barbarians certainly know what is due to a King!
(The End)

Saturday, January 26, 2013


រឿង តាអ្នកចម្ការនិងសត្វពស់

(បទពាក្យ ៨)
គ្រាមួយចៅប្រុសតាអ្នកចម្ការ              រត់លេងលីលានៅនាមាត់ព្រៃ
ចៃដន្យជាន់កន្ទុយពស់ភ្ញាក់ភ័យ         ពស់ខឹងពេកក្រៃចឹកវាស្លាប់ទៅ ។
តាអ្នកចម្ការដឹងថាចៅស្លាប់              ដោយសារពស់ចឹកគាត់ទាញពូថៅ
កើតរឿងអាស្រូវព្រោះការសងសឹក ។
ពស់គុំក្នុងចិត្តវាគិតកែខៃ                    ថ្ងៃមួយលកលៃលបលូនចូលចឹក
សម្លាប់គោតាអស់ច្រើនសន្ធឹក           ដើម្បីសងសឹកតាមចិត្តខឹងខ្លាំង ។
ឃើញរឿងបែបនោះតាអ្នកចម្ការ        គិតពិចារណាថាគួរឈប់ច្បាំង
បើនៅតែក្រាញខំប្រឹងតតាំង    តាមតែមោហ៍បាំងខូចប្រយោជន៍អស់ ។
លុះគិតច្នោះហើយតាយកចំណី      ទឹកឃ្មុំលាយបាយដាក់មាត់រន្ធពស់
បញ្ចប់ជម្លោះរស់ដូចព្រៀងលាន ។
បើនៅតែមានចិត្តតាមចងកម្ម          ចងពៀរប្រចាំមិនស្រុះស្រាកស្រាន្ត
ច្បាស់ជាយើងខាតរៀងខ្លួនមិនខាន     ច្នេះគួររាប់អានគ្នាវិញទើបល្អ ។
ពស់ឮដូច្នោះឆ្លើយប្រាប់តាវិញ              ថាកុំម្នោម្នេញយកចំណីមក៍
ព្រោះម្ហូបទាំងនេះមិនអាចជួយត   កន្ទុយដ៏ល្អដាច់ចាកចោលប្រាណ ។
រីឯតាវិញក៏បាត់បង់ចៅ                   គោច្រើនពេកកូវអំពីភូមិឋាន
មិនអាចភ្លេចបានទេណាលោកតា ។
តែបើតាស្ម័គ្រឲ្យខ្ញុំរស់ជិត                រក្សាជីវិតតាមសម្មាមាគ៌ា
ដើម្បីរម្ងាប់នូវការចងពៀរ                ខ្ញុំសូមវន្ទាជាគ្នាតទៅ ៕
ការសងសឹក មិនមែនជាមធ្យោបាយសម្រាប់ដោះស្រាយទំនាស់ឡើយ

Thursday, January 24, 2013


រឿង ទន្សាយនិងក្រពើ

កាលពីព្រេងនាយ មានសត្វទន្សាយមួយ រស់នៅលើកោះ សំរោង ដែល
ជាកោះមួយ ដុះនៅកណ្តាលដងទន្លេមេគង្គ ស្ថិតនៅត្រង់ម្តុំភូមិកៀនជ្រៃ
នៃខេត្តកំពង់ចាម ។ រៀងរាល់ឆ្នាំនារដូវវស្សា ទឹកទន្លេតែងតែជន់ឡើង
លិចព្រៃនៅលើកោះជានិច្ចជាកាល បណ្តាលឲ្យទីជម្រករបស់ទន្សាយ
ត្រូវបំផ្លាញដោយទឹកជំនន់ ខ្ទេចខ្ទីអស់ ។ ដោយនឿយណាយនឹងទឹក
ជំនន់ ដែបានបំផ្លាញជម្រករបស់វា រៀងរាល់ឆ្នាំនោះ ទន្សាយក៏សម្រេច
ចិត្តប្តូរទីលំនៅ ទៅរស់នៅក្នុងតំបន់ភ្នំវិញម្តង ។ ប៉ុន្តែ ដើម្បីទៅរស់នៅ
ក្នុងតំបន់ភ្នំ ទន្សាយចាំបាច់ ត្រូវតែចាកចេញពីកោះសំរោង ដោយត្រូវ
ធ្វើដំណើរ ឆ្លងកាត់ផ្ទៃទន្លេដ៏ធំល្វឹងល្វើយ ។ ទន្សាយជាសត្វមិនប្រសព្វ
ហែលទឹកទេ ហើយក៏មិនចូលចិត្ត ឲ្យរោមរបស់វាត្រូវទឹកដែរ ។
ថ្ងៃមួយ នៅពេលដែលទន្សាយ ចុះទៅអង្គុយនៅមាត់ទន្លេ ដើម្បីស្វែង
រកមធ្យោបាយ ឆ្លងទៅកាន់ត្រើយនាយ វាបានឃើញក្រពើមួយ កំពុង
បណ្តែតខ្លួននៅក្បែរមាត់ច្រាំង ។ រំពេចនោះ ទន្សាយក៏នឹកឃើញកល
ល្បិចមួយ ដើម្បីបញ្ឆោតក្រពើ ឲ្យចម្លងវាទៅកាន់ត្រើយម្ខាង ។
“ជំរាបសួរបងក្រពើ ! តើបងសុខសប្បាយជាទេ ?” ទន្សាយស្រែក
សួរក្រពើ ។ ក្រពើឮទន្សាយស្រែកសួរ វាក៏ហែលមកជិត ហើយតបថា៖
“ខ្ញុំសុខសប្បាយជាទេប្អូនទន្សាយ ។ ចុះប្អូនវិញ សុខទុក្ខយ៉ាងណា
ដែរ ?” ។
“ខ្ញុំសុខសប្បាយទេបង” ទន្សាយតប “ប៉ុន្តែ ខ្ញុំចង់ដឹងរឿងមួយ តើបង
អាចប្រាប់ខ្ញុំបានទេ ?” ។
“រឿងអ្វីទៅប្អូន ?” ក្រពើសួរទន្សាយ ។
“ខ្ញុំចង់ដឹងថា តើចំនួនក្រពើនិងទន្សាយ ក្រុមណាមួយមានគ្នាច្រើន
ជាង” ទន្សាយនិយាយទៅកាន់ក្រពើ ។
“នោះគឺជាការងាយតើ” ក្រពើនិយាយ “យើងហៅគ្នាយើងមកជុំគ្នា
រួចរាប់មើលទៅ នឹងបានដឹងហើយ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ បងជឿថា ក្រពើមានចំនួន
ច្រើនជាងទន្សាយ ព្រោះពួកយើង រស់នៅក្នុងទន្លេដ៏ធំល្វឹងល្វើយ ឯ
ពួកប្អូន រស់នៅលើកោះដ៏តូចមួយនេះ ធ្វើម្តេចនឹងប្រៀបបានទៅ” ។
“បើបងថាពួកបង ពិតជាមានចំនួនច្រើនជាងពួកខ្ញុំមែន តើបងអាច
ហៅពួកបង មកតម្រៀបគ្នាចាប់ពីកោះនេះ ទៅដល់ភូមិកៀនជ្រៃ
ដែលស្ថិតនៅឯត្រើយម្ខាងនោះបានទេ” ទន្សាយនិយាយទៅកាន់
ក្រពើ ។
“ប្រាកដជាបាន!” ក្រពើតប “ប៉ុន្តែ ប្អូនត្រូវចាំបងមួយភ្លែត ដើម្បីឲ្យបង
ទៅហៅក្រពើដទៃ ឲ្យមកតម្រៀបគ្នាឲ្យប្អូនមើល” ។ លុះឮក្រពើ
និយាយដូច្នោះ ទន្សាយក៏តបថា៖ “ខ្ញុំនឹងនៅរង់ចាំបងនៅទីនេះ សូម
បងអញ្ជើញទៅហៅគ្នីគ្នាបងមក” ។
មួយស្របក់ក្រោយមក ក្រពើក៏បាននាំគ្នីគ្នា មកតម្រៀបគ្នាជាជួរ ចាប់
ពីកោះសំរោង រហូតដល់ភូមិកៀនជ្រៃ ដែលស្ថិតនៅឯត្រើយម្ខាង ។
បន្ទាប់ពីបានឃើញក្រពើ តម្រៀបគ្នាជាជួររួចហើយ ទន្សាយក៏ធ្វើជា
និយាយលាន់មាត់ថា៖ “ពុទ្ធោ ! ចំនួនក្រពើពិតជាមានច្រើនមែន ។
តែស្តាយណាស់ ដោយខ្ញុំមិនអាចមើលឲ្យឃើញប្រត្យក្ស ថាតើក្រពើ ដែលស្ថិតនៅខាងចុងគេបំផុតនោះ ជាក្រពើពិតមែន ឬក៏ជាគល់ឈើ ដែលពួកបងយកមកបំភាន់ភ្នែកខ្ញុំ” ។ ក្រពើឮទន្សាយ ពោលពាក្យ
មន្ទិលសង្ស័យដូច្នោះ វាក៏ប្រាប់ទៅទន្សាយវិញថា៖ “បើប្អូននៅមានការ
មន្ទិលសង្ស័យ ប្អូនអាចដើរលើខ្នងពួកយើង ទៅមើលបានតើ” ។
“ពិតមែនអ្ហ៎ាះ !” ទន្សាយបញ្ជាក់ “តែបងត្រូវប្រាប់គ្នីគ្នា ឲ្យបណ្តែតខ្លួន
ឲ្យនឹងណា បើមិនដូច្នោះទេ ខ្ញុំប្រាកដជារអិលជើង ធ្លាក់ទឹកស្លាប់ជា
មិនខាន” ។
“មិនអីទេ” ក្រពើប្រាប់ទន្សាយ “ចាំបងប្រាប់ក្រពើទាំងអស់ ឲ្យបណ្តែត
ខ្លួនឲ្យនឹងថ្កល់” ។
លុះក្រពើប្រាប់គ្នីគ្នា ឲ្យបណ្តែតខ្លួនឲ្យនឹងថ្កល់រួចហើយ ទន្សាយក៏ដើរ
លើខ្នងក្រពើ ដើម្បីទៅពិនិត្យមើលក្រពើ ដែលស្ថិតនៅខាងចុងគេនោះ
ថាតើជាក្រពើពិតប្រាកដ ឬមួយក៏ជាគល់ឈើ ។ នៅពេលដែលវា ដើរ
មកដល់លើខ្នងក្រពើ ដែលស្ថិតនៅខាងចុងគេបំផុតភ្លាម ទន្សាយក៏
លោតឡើងលើគោកភ្លែត ហើយក៏រត់ចូលព្រៃបាត់ទៅ ៕
"បើចង់បញ្ជាអ្នកមានអំណាចឲ្យធ្វើអ្វីមួយ យើងគប្បីចេះ

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Trial and Tragedy (Cont.)
By January 1977, one year after our arrival in Ponlear Chey, the local Khmer Rouge’s authority sent out directives to all families in the village to prepare to send any unmarried family member between the ages of 14 to 40 to work on building a dam across the Chinit’s River which was located about 55 miles from where we lived. All four of my older brothers, Hong, Heang, Sokha, and Sama were recruited to work on the project. With great anxiety, my mother packed a mosquito’s net and some provisions for my brothers before sending them off to join the workforce. All of a sudden, our family members were reduced by half. With all the older children gone and my father’s health deteriorating (he was given permission to stay home at that point), I found myself becoming the man of the family. All the heavy household chores such as milling rice grains, finding and chopping firewood for cooking, and fetching water from the well fell flat on my shoulders. Also, to supplement our diets, I would forage for edible vegetables and creatures such as water lily, crabs, snails, etc., during my daily cowboy outings in the fields looking after farm animals.

The burden of foraging for edible things in the fields and forests, or doing heavy household chores was not a major cause of concern for me because, at that point in time, I was experienced enough to handle the tasks. What worried me and my mother the most was my father’s illness. After recovering from malaria, my father seemed to grow weaker and weaker every day. On top of that, he had an unrelenting cough which appeared to be a sign of tuberculosis. Before long, my father began to cough up phlegm mixed with blood. At that point, we knew with little doubt that my father had contracted tuberculosis. But there was nothing we could do, for tuberculosis was not something that could be cured with herbal or homemade remedies. To help alleviate my father’s coughing, a villager brought him some herbal remedies to try out. He also told me to go look for certain tree bark and grasses and put them in boiling water until the liquid became almost like jelly, then have my father consume the concoction lest it help cure his illness. In such a desperate situation, I did as told. But, my efforts were in vain. My father’s condition got worse and worse. As the disease progressed, his coughing became more intense and the blood in his phlegm appeared to increase in quantity. It looked like Baci de Koch had destroyed my father’s lungs beyond repair. Each night, he was painfully moaning in his sleep. With all four of my older brothers away from home, my mother, my little brother, Buntha, and I huddled in the corner next to my father in despair.

By mid June, my four older brothers along with the rest of the workforce that had been recruited to build the dam across the Chinit’s River were sent back home to recover from their six months of hard labor. They all were skinny and could barely walk. It was a classic case of malnourishment and overwork. Everyone in the village was shocked to see these healthy young men reduced to walking skeletons as each one of them stumbled into the village, one after another. The images of skinny young men and women walking about the village moved the village’s officials into action. They slaughtered a couple of buffalos and distributed their meat to every family in the village. They also gave generous rice rations to those whose sons or daughters had just returned from the dam’s building mission. The generous rations had been both a blessing and a curse for these skinny fellows who had been starved for several months. Because of their deflated stomach, the influx of food caused their stomachs to bloat and resulted in both stomachaches and severe diarrhea afterward. For the first several days after they arrived home and wolfed down the food, which were provided to them by the village’s authority, all four of my brothers became sick with bloated stomach and diarrhea. They lay down in one corner of the house like patients in a hospital ward. It took them about a week to recover from their ordeal.

After they were at home for a few weeks, all four of my older brothers were once again told to be at a ready to join the youth mobile work brigades. At the same time, the Khmer Rouge’s Angkar had announced that it would conduct mass wedding ceremony for those who would like to get married. Hence, any prospective couple who would like to be wedded and recognized by Angkar must present themselves in front of the local authority, and declare their intention to form a union in order to get prior permission. Taking the opportunity the Khmer Rouge’s authority offered, my parents decided to have one of my older brothers get married so that he would be able to work and stay close to home. The Khmer Rouge’s policy at that time was to send only unmarried individuals to work in faraway places. Hong was the chosen one because he had already had his sight on a girl named Narath, who was separated from her parents and living with her distant relatives. After experiencing hardships in performing hard labor in faraway places with little food to eat, many youths were more than happy to get married in order to avoid being recruited and sent to work away from home. Thus, there wasn’t much proposition for Hong to do. He went to ask permission from Narath’s guardians and, before long, the two youngsters were in front of the village’s chief declaring their intention to form a union. After receiving the chief’s blessing, they joined a horde of other young couples in a mass wedding conducted by the communal officials. It was a crude wedding ceremony, no music, no reception or celebration of any kind. Each couple stood next to each other listening to admonitions given by Khmer Rouge’s officials who presided over the ceremony. Once the last Khmer Rouge cadre finished his speech, all the couples were sent home as husbands and wives.

Narath moved in to live with us. Our host family was kind enough to build Hong and Narath a small partition at one corner of the house so that they could have some privacy as a couple. By that time, my father’s illness had become desperately critical. As we were helplessly watching my father suffering and dying, one of our neighbors suggested that we should approach the village’s authority and ask for permission to take him to the district hospital in case the hospital had medicines to treat him. It was a good idea but we were wary about the Khmer Rouge’s hospitals. Through the grapevine rumors, we heard that the Khmer Rouge’s hospital staff was notoriously unkind and careless toward patients, especially new people. In a sense, the Khmer Rouge’s hospitals were nothing more than places where sick people were sent to hasten their demises. After a long and hard thinking, my mother finally decided to send my father to the district hospital despite her awareness of what the Khmer Rouge’s hospital was like. It was so surreal to see my mother struggled to make a decision against her own will, a decision that could only happen in movies. Though I wasn’t closely involved with my mother’s decision-making, I could sense that she was torn between two forces — her love of my father and her love of the family as a whole.

I should point out that, at that critical period in our lives in Ponlear Chey, the Khmer Rouge had already begun to massacre new people whom they suspected of being officials of the former regime, or of being counterrevolutionary -- a term which covered a range of misdeeds, from not working hard enough to simply being a nuisance to the base people. For all the new people in Ponlear Chey, and throughout the country for that matter, our lives depended pretty much on the whim of our base people hosts. Their words alone could determine whether we should live or die. My father’s illness presented two dilemmas for us. First, tuberculosis was a contagious disease, and our hosts knew that. Second, we had been told to take our father to the hospital to let Angkar’s medical staff take care of him. Hence, if we did not send him to the hospital, we risked being perceived by our hosts as a possible source of spreading tuberculosis among them, a scenario which could motivate them to get rid of us all by simply just reporting to Angkar that we were rotten bourgeoisie. On the other hand, we could be viewed by the Khmer Rouge’s Angkar as counterrevolutionaries for not following the suggestion of base people from whom we were supposed to learn.

In a somber mood, my brother, Hong, went to ask for permission to take my father to the district hospital. The village’s authority gave him a written pass and a bicycle to take my father to the hospital, for my father was too weak to be able to walk all the way to the hospital, which was located about six miles away. At about 10 o’clock in the morning, Hong and my father set off for the hospital. As my father was about to ride on the bicycle’s saddle behind Hong, my mother handed him a tiny bag containing a small blanket and a pair of clean clothes to change into when he washed the ones he was wearing. Without saying a word, my father took one last look at us pleadingly as if he was begging for mercy. We all tried to maintain eye contact with him as short as possible and acted optimistically in front of the many villagers who came to see him off. Amid well wishes from villagers, Hong pedaled the bicycle slowly with my father sitting precariously behind him. From the corner of my eye, I saw my mother turn around and walk back into the house with a heavy heart. Her eyes were filled with pain and sadness.

We sat quietly for the rest of the day waiting for Hong’s return, so that we could learn what the condition at the district’s hospital was like. By about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Hong returned from the hospital. Surprisingly, and to my mother’s great relief, my father also came back with him. Hong told us that the district’s hospital was overflowing with patients. The hospital had run out of spaces to accommodate new patients. Therefore, the hospital staff just simply refused to admit my father, despite his urgent need of care. In a rather cruel twist of fate, the hospital’s refusal to admit him was a blessing, for in a crowded Khmer Rouge’s hospital, my father would certainly be left to die like a vermin. By being back at home, my father could at least die knowing that his family was nearby.

A few days later, the villagers organized a fishing expedition to Tonle Sap Lake. Two of my brothers, Hong and Heang went along with them hoping to catch some fish to supplement our diets. In a desolate place like Ponlear Chey, the prospect of having some fresh fish to add to our diets excited everyone. We couldn’t wait to see the return of those who had gone fishing. Even my father who was on the verge of dying was longing to see my brothers’ catch. He inquired about their return almost on a daily basis. Five days later, all the fishermen returned to the village with their catch. My brothers brought back two large live soft-shell turtles (kontheay) which they caught on the last day of the expedition. Each turtle weighed about 14 pounds. Everyone in the neighborhood was very pleased and excited because those turtles could provide a feast for at least 50 people. That night, we all went to bed with a sense of excitement thinking that the next morning, we would have a feast of turtle’s meat.

At about 4:30 in the early morning hours, we all woke up to a rather strange sound. It was my father making painful sounds. At that instance, we all knew that something had gone terribly bad with his health. Through my mother’s trembling voice asking my father to respond to her, we all knew that the devil was about to claim his soul. Om Po burned a torch to give the house some illumination as my mother continued to ask my father to respond to her. But there was no discernible answer coming out of my father’s mouth. He continued to moan in pain. He arched his back up slightly and his body appeared stiff. At that point, his moan died out slowly. In his final attempt to stay alive, my father struggled to take in a gulp of oxygen; but it was in vain. He died in the middle of his breathing with his eyes still open as if his body refused to die. My mother put a white handkerchief to cover my father’s face and we all sat around his lifeless body to let reality sink in.
(To be continued)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

36) Supernatural Phenomenon
I heard that there was a savage who committed incest with his sister. This incestuous act caused their skins to attach to each other for 3 days and nights. They eventually died. An acquaintance of mine surnamed Shih, who has lived in this country for 35 years, told me that he witnessed this strange phenomenon with his own eyes twice. It is said that the power of the Supreme Beings in this country is very effective in punishing bad deeds.

37) Bathing
The climate in Cambodia is very hot. So, people bathe several times each day to cope with the heat. They even take bath at night. There are no bathrooms, tanks, or containers of any kind for taking bath. Each home has to dig a pond in which people would bathe. If a private pond were not doable, several households would cooperate to dig up a communal pond where everyone would have access to it. People bathe completely naked even in communal ponds. Nobody seems to bother about modesty. However, if adults are in the ponds, youngsters must wait for their turn and vice versa. For those who are of the same ages, they could commingle in the ponds freely. People use their left hands to cover their private parts as they enter the ponds.
Occasionally (every 5 or 6 days), hordes of ladies of the city would go to bathe in the river outside the city. Once they arrive at the river, they would take off their clothes and go into the river by the hundreds. Even ladies of the court and women of high statuses participate in this nudist gathering.
Every time, when such gathering occurs, there are always Chinese men hanging around the area to peak at the scene. I heard that some of these men even sneak into the river to take advantage of the gathering. The water in the river is always warm. It only gets a bit cold during pre-dawn hours.

38) Immigration
When ships arrive in Cambodia, many sailors, especially those from China, get very excited. Because, in this country, there are minimal needs for clothes, rice and wife are easy to get, houses are easy to build, utilities are easy to find, and trades are easy to conduct, a lot of foreigners have come to settle here.

39) The Armies
Cambodian armies wear neither body armors nor shirts (uniforms). They carry spears in their right hands and shields in their left. There are no artillery nor bows and arrows. I heard that during a recent war with Siam, the villagers were recruited to march into battlefields as brute forces without any battle planning.

Friday, January 18, 2013


រឿង ស្រមោចនិងរៃ

(បទពាក្យ ៧)
នៅលើវាលស្មៅស្រស់ខៀវខ្ចី           ក្រោមពន្លឺថ្ងៃចាំងភ្លឺថ្លា
ស្រមោចមួយហ្វូងប្រឹងធ្វើការ           រកភោជនាហារមកស្តុកទុក ។
ខ្នះខ្នែងអូសទាញញាប់ជើងដៃ         ក្រោមកំដៅថ្ងៃប្រឹងតត្រុក
ស្វែងរកស្បៀងមកដាក់ជង្រុក          សន្សំគរទុកខែវស្សា ។
ទោះក្តៅលំបាកក៏ស៊ូទ្រាំ                    ស្រមោចខំពាំនាំអាហារ
ត្រៀមទុកធ្វើស្បៀងក្នុងគ្រួសារ        នៅខែវស្សានាថ្ងៃមុខ ។
មានសត្វរៃមួយនៅមិនឆ្ងាយ            ច្រៀងរាំសប្បាយឥតកើតទុក្ខ
អត់បារម្ភព្រួយទៅថ្ងៃមុខ                  មិនរកស្បៀងទុកផ្គត់ផ្គង់ខ្លួន ។
ពេលឃើញស្រមោចប្រឹងធ្វើការ      រៃក៏វាចាថាមិត្តស្ងួន
ខំប្រឹងអ្វីម្ល៉េះធ្វើបាបខ្លួន                     កម្លាំងមាំមួនមករាំលេង ។
ស្រមោចឆ្លើយប្រាប់រៃវិញថា             ខ្ញុំជាប់កិច្ចការច្រើនធំធេង
ប្រមូលស្បៀងទុកដាក់កន្លែង            គួរបងរៃឯងពិចារណា ។
រៃឆ្លើយតបវិញឥតខ្វល់ភ័យ               ទៅបារម្ភថ្វីខែវស្សា
សម្បូរមិនខ្វះម្ហូបអាហារ                    ឥឡូវនេះណាយើងរាំច្រៀង ។
វស្សាភ្លៀងធ្លាក់ត្រជាក់ខ្យល់             រៃមានកង្វល់ព្រោះដាច់ស្បៀង
បែរមើលស្រមោចឃើញស៊ីលៀង    ដ្បិតអីបានព្រាងប្រឹងឧស្សាហ៍ ។
ឥឡូវទើបរៃដឹងខ្លួនខុស                    សប្បាយជ្រុលហួសភ្លេចកិច្ចការ
លុះពេលអត់ឃ្លានទើបដឹងថា           គួរប្រឹងធ្វើការពេលទំនេរ ៕
បើគិតតែសប្បាយនៅពេលបច្ចុប្បន្ន ផលវិបាកប្រាកដ

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


រឿង ទន្សាយនិងឆ្កែ

ទន្សាយមួយ ត្រូវបានឆ្កែដេញតាមខាំយ៉ាងប្រកិតពីក្រោយ ។ ដើម្បីរក្សា
ជីវិតរបស់វា ទន្សាយបានខិតខំរត់យ៉ាងលឿន រហូតដល់ទីបំផុត វាក៏
បានគេចរួចផុតពីចង្កូមរបស់ឆ្កែ ។ ក្សិណនោះ មានក្មេងឃ្វាលគោម្នាក់
បានឃើញ ទន្សាយរត់គេចរួចពីការដេញខាំរបស់ឆ្កែ វាក៏និយាយរិះគន់
ឆ្កែថា៖ “គ្រាន់តែទន្សាយសំគមមួយប៉ុណ្ណឹង ក៏រត់ដេញតាមមិនទាន់
ដែរ” ។ “ឯងមើលមិនយល់ភាពខុសគ្នាទេឬ ?“ ឆ្កែឆ្លើយតប “ម្នាក់ជា
អ្នករត់ ដេញតាមចាប់គេស៊ីជាអាហារ ។ ឯម្នាក់ទៀតជាអ្នករត់ ដើម្បី
រក្សាការពារអាយុជីវិតរបស់ខ្លួន” ៕
ស្ថានការណ៍ចាំបាច់ ជាអាវុធដ៏ស័ក្តិសិទ្ធរបស់យើង

Monday, January 14, 2013


Trial and Tragedy

At the time when we arrived in Ponlear Chey’s village it was harvesting season. Therefore, most of the new people were asked to help harvest the rice crops in every way they could. Those who could use the sickles would help cut the rice stems, while others walked around the fields collecting the bundles of harvested rice stems and loading them onto the oxcarts. As for children like me who had never carried a sickle before, we were given either a basket or a little bag to take along with us and go into the harvested fields to pick up any stem of rice seeds kour srov which had been broken off during the harvesting process.

Following the universal policy of the Khmer Rouge, people were divided into work brigades according to their ages, not their abilities. My father once again went to work at the village’s crafting center, while my mother and the rest of my older brothers went to work in the rice fields. Once the rice harvesting was done, all the adults were mobilized to build dikes or dig small canals in preparation for the upcoming planting season. As for the children, we were once again ordered to go into the fields to collect dried cattle dung and bring them to the compost pits to be turned into fertilizer. Every morning, I set off along with Oss, our host’s son, to look after the water buffalos while, at the same time, collecting any dried cattle dung we might find in the fields to bring back to the compost pits. Oss taught me how to ride and handle water buffalo while we were out in the fields. Though I was still afraid of the beasts, my experience with the young oxen in Prek Rumdeng had given me some confidence to overcome my fear. So with Oss as my instructor, I climbed up on the back of one of the buffalos to ride along with him. It was my maiden ride on the back of a water buffalo, and the experience was rather exhilarating for me. However, as I belatedly learned upon the conclusion of my ride, the water buffalo’s back and its skin gave me the greatest surprise of a life time. Oss showed me how to ride on the water buffalo’s back, but he didn’t tell me how or where to sit on it. Naively, I sat close to its shoulder where the beast’s vertebra protruded upward. As a result, the end of my behind smacked right against the protruded vertebra which caused severe inflammation to that sensitive area. As soon as I dismounted from the water buffalo’s back, I knew that something was wrong with my rear end. The pain was so excruciating that it gave me renewed respect for the expression “pain in the butt.” In addition, I was wearing shorts while riding on the water buffalo’s back, and as my skin touched the beast’s hide, rashes and blisters developed all over my legs. Upon arriving home, I was in very bad shape and crying in pain. After inspecting the rashes and blisters on my legs, Om Po brought me a handful of rice kernels and told me to put the grains into my mouth and chew on them until they became milky powder, then sprayed it onto my affected legs. I did as told, and afterward, lay down on my stomach to recover from the ordeal.

It took me a few days to recover from the painful skin rashes and the unmentionable inflammation in my behind. I didn’t know whether the rice kernels remedy healed my skin rashes or if it was my frequent bathing; but, whatever cured me, I was so thankful. From that ordeal, I learned that my skin rashes and blisters were an allergic condition Cambodian farm folks called Skear, which resulted from first-time contact with the buffalo’s hide that, needless to say, was filthy with mud and murky water in which the animal wallowed to protect its skin from sunburn. As I rode on the buffalo’s back, the area where my skin touched its hide heated up, which, coupling with the heat from the sun, caused me to sweat. It was the interaction of my sweat and the buffalo’s filthy hide that produced rashes and blisters on my skin, an allergy that I discovered the hard way.

After my debacle with the water buffalo ride, I took on yet another experiment in my endless trial to fit in with the local kids and their ways of life. This time, it was palm trees that captured my interest. Living across the street from us there was a boy named Penh, who was about my age. I had been eying him for some time as he was climbing a palm tree called Tnaut behind his house to collect its sap. One day, I approached him and inquired about how one could learn to climb and produce palm sap. Penh told me how it was done. But I was not satisfied. So I asked him if I could climb after him to see how it was done. To my absolute delight, Penh agreed to show me how to climb and produce palm sap. Before long, I was up on top of a palm tree. Penh took out a pair of round bamboo sticks about an inch in diameter and 3 feet in length. The bamboo sticks were tied together at one end. Penh held the other ends of the bamboo sticks in each hand and spread them apart like bush cutting scissors. He put the palm tree’s flower in between the bamboo’s sticks close to the area where they were tied together and gently squeezed the palm’s flower from the base to its tip. After squeezing it, Penh pulled out a sharp knife to cut off a thin slide from the tip of the flower while explaining to me the entire process of producing palm tree’s sap. He told me, to get the sap flowing, one must squeeze the palm’s flower with the bamboo’s sticks for at least one week. Each palm flower could produce between 1 to 2 liters of sap per night.

Climbing palm trees was not something for the faint of heart to do. It was a dangerous proposition. Any misstep meant that the climber would fall to his death or, if he was fortunate to survive the fall, be disabled for life. I was the only new people’s kid in Ponlear Chey who had the guts to climb up palm trees. Hence, my unusual bravery soon got some notoriety in the village.

One day a man named Saroeun approached me and inquired if I would be interested in going along with him to help collect palm tree sap. Like us, Saroeun was new to the village. He was a former medical student who had been banished from the city. During his youth living in Takeo province, Saroeun used to climb up palm trees to collect their sap. After arriving in Ponlear Chey, he volunteered to join the village’s palm trees sap collecting team which was composed of about five men. In my eagerness to learn how to produce palm sap, I tagged along with Saroeun without giving it much thought. At first, Saroeun let me climb only the short trees while he was tackling the taller ones. However, when he didn’t feel well, sometimes I would climb up and collect sap from all the trees for him while he was standing on the ground giving me instructions.

Due to the primitive living conditions, life in Ponlear Chey was tough for all of us, especially the new people. The barren landscape appeared to be devoid of vegetation. Beside the rice fields and palm trees, it seemed that not much else could grow in the area. Most villagers had already had a tough time eking out a living prior to our arrival. Thus, the influx of new people put even more strain on the village’s resources. The rice crops which we helped harvested upon our arrival were kept in a communal granary. Each week, every family was given a ration of these rice grains to consume according to the number of people in the family. Once we received the rice grains, we had to mill them by hand with pestle and mortar.

The process of cleaning husks from the rice grains was an arduous task which required both brute force and patience. It was usually done by women, for men were probably too impatient to get the job done properly without spilling all the grains onto the ground. There were eight people in our family, and my mother didn’t have any daughters to help her with the rice milling process. So she soldiered on alone with this backbreaking work to produce food to feed us. After seeing my mother exhaustively doing what appeared to be a never ending task of breaking rice husks to obtain the necessary kernels to feed us, I felt that there had to be something we could do to help her. One day, as she was husking rice grains along with Om Po, I went down to see them work. After watching them for a while, I asked my mother to let me pound on the grains for her. My mother reluctantly gave me the pestle as she was concerned that my inexperienced hands might cause the precious grains to spill onto the ground which could deplete our meager food supply. Om Po told me to put an old mat underneath the mortar just in case I misguided the pestle and cause the grain spillage. After some trial and error, I finally mastered the rice pounding skill. From that point on, my mother was doing only the light tasks of separating the broken husks from the rice kernels while leaving the heavy work of pounding the grains to me. Sama, my brother, sometimes helped me pound the rice grains, if he was not being sent to work far away from home with the youth brigade. Both of us would perform this hard work until the time when we were no longer allowed to eat at home individually.

As the rainfall began, people in the village were mobilized to prepare lands and seedlings for the crop growing season. Those, especially men, who could handle plows, were given the tasks of tilling the lands for planting. As for the rest of the people, they would be ordered to do whatever was needed to get the rice seedlings planted in the muddy soil before the rainy season passed on. All of a sudden, the barren landscapes were alive with people everywhere. One could not help but noticing that, with people lining up to transplant rice seedlings as far as the eye could see, the whole place looked like a gigantic agricultural assembly line.

Rice planting was and is backbreaking work. The process of tilling the lands, growing the seedlings in the nurseries, and transplanting the seedlings by hand in the muddy soil two or three stems at a time demanded a lot of effort. Hence, the grueling regimen eventually took a tremendous toll on our health, especially new people who had never before been conditioned to perform such strenuous work. Because we were mentally and physically not fully prepared to cope with such a demanding condition, our health deteriorated rapidly. On top of that, we were given only a small ration of rice to eat without anything else to supplement it. The weekly ration was just barely enough for us to stave off starvation. As a result, we grew weaker by the day. But what worried us the most was malarial disease which appeared to be prevalent in the area where we lived.

As the rainy reason began in full swing, the emergence of malaria-borne mosquitoes appeared to be everywhere. Because of our primitive living condition and the lack of protection from mosquito bites, there was little chance for us to protect ourselves from malarial diseases. There were a couple of old mosquito nets that we still had in our possession. Every night, we would crawl inside them to sleep. But that flimsy line of defense was no match for the cunning mosquitoes. Soon we were struck down by malaria one after another. The first person to succumb to malaria was my father. Each day he would suffer a few bouts of shivering and sweating before the disease gave him a short break. I remembered each time my father went into shivering, he would ask me to put a couple of blankets to cover him and lie on top of his uncontrollably shaking body to keep him warm.

My father was not the only one who suffered malarial attacks. My brothers Hong, Heang, Sokha, Sama, and I, myself, were also struck down by malaria. Even Kne, my nemesis, was unfortunate enough to suffer from this dreadful disease. Though all of us suffered and recovered from malaria with only minor concern to our well being, Kne came close to dying during her harrowing struggle to overcome the grip of malarial attack. Her case was plasmodium falciparum in its purest form. I remembered seeing her ghostly body lying listlessly in the house. Kne’s hair had been falling off. As a consequence, her head became bald. Her mother, Om Po, was doing everything she could to help her recover. She even resorted to shamanism, despite the Khmer Rouge’s ban on such practices. But, in her desperation, she discreetly invited a village’s shaman to perform a spell to cast away whatever spirit possessed Kne. Miraculously, Kne recovered from her ordeal, whether because the shaman freed her from the possessive spirit or because her mother gave her a number of homemade medicinal remedies, nobody knew. What mattered most to everyone was that she had cheated death by pulling herself away from the dreaded stranglehold of cerebral falciparum. After we all took turns to complete our battles with plasmodium falciparum, the disease seemed to fade away along with the rain.

(To be continued)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

28) Noodles, Salt, Soya Sauce, and Vinegar

There is no prohibition regarding the productions of noodles, salt, soya sauce, and vinegar. Along the coastlines from Chen-po to Pakang, people produce salt by using sea water. People also mine for salt and other mineral in mountainous areas. The Cambodians do not know how to make vinegar, but they like to use sour substances in their cooking. The source of this sour substance could be found in a tree called Kampheng (Tamarind). People use both tamarind’s leaves and fruits to substitute for vinegar in their cooking.

The Cambodians do not know how to make noodles, for there are no wheats—the essential ingredients for making noodles. Neither can they produce yeast. In order to make alcoholic beverages, people would mix honey with water and then put a particular kind of tree leaves in it to get the fermented liquid which could be turned into a beverage.

29) Silkworms and the Mulberry Trees
People in Cambodia do not cultivate mulberry trees or silkworms. Most women don’t know how to knit or make parchments. Though they know how to weave, their cloth weaving is done without using any wheel or loom. First, they twisted cottons into threads by hands and tie one end of the threads around their waist. Then they use bamboo sticks to tie the other end of the threads and start weaving from there.

Recently, the Siamese have come to Cambodia, and they brought along silkworms and mulberry trees to be cultivated. There are no hemps. Only kro-chao plants are grown here. The Siamese are skillful at sewing and embroidery; hence, local people always bring their damaged clothes to them for mending.

30) Utensils
In general, most Cambodian homes have no dining tables nor metallic pots and pans. For cooking, people use clay pots. Stoves are made by putting 3 stones in a triangular shape, while ladles are fashioned from coconut shells. People use plates imported from China to put rice on them while using cones specially made from large tree leaves to hold soup and broth. For spoons, they also use tree leaves. After each use, the leaves are discarded. The foods which people offer to gods or deities are also placed on tree leaves.

People eat with their bare hands; hence, they usually place a silver bowl water container nearby to wet their fingers so that the rice wouldn’t stick onto them. As for wine, they use bronze cup. For those who could not afford to have silver or bronze utensils, they would use clay potteries. Court officials usually use silver or gold water containers. On the occasion of national festivities, gold utensils are being use in a very special way. Decorative mats imported from Meng-jiv, China, are very popular for household uses. Sometimes, people use dried tiger’s, leopard’s, or stag’s skins as mats.

Recently, low dining tables have been introduced for household uses. People sleep on mats made of bamboo weaving. However, some people begin using beds imported from China. People use a piece of cloth to cover their foods to keep flies and other insects away. In the palace, they use silk or embroidery clothes which traders brought as gifts to the monarch. The Cambodians do not use mills to hash rice. They use mortars and pestles.

31) Carriages
To make a carriage, people must first find a pole with a perfect curve in the middle. On each end of the pole, gold or silver was embossed along with intricate carving. At about two feet from each end of the pole, a metal hinge is bolded into the wood to form a hook where a hammock-like carriage seat is attached to it. The rider would sit in that hammock, whereas two people are needed to carry it around. Along with the carriage, there is also a sort of portable tent which made from embroidered colorful clothes. Four people would carry that tent next to the carriage in order to provide shade for the person riding in the carriage. For long distance travel, people would ride on ox cart, on elephant, or horseback. Ox carts in this country look similar to those being used in neighboring states. However, people ride on elephants or horses without any saddle.

32) Boats
Large boats are made by putting planks of hardwood together. Cambodian boat builders do not use saw. They use axes and drills to cut and chisel logs into planks which wasted a lot of wood. Whenever they need to cut a piece of wood, they would drill holes through it. They also cut woods to build the house in the same fashion. Nails are being used to build boats. One type of boat called sinna is fashioned with a roof that is made by placing tree leaves called Leng in between small planks of beetlenut trunks. To keep water from seeping into the boats, tree resins mixed with fish fats and mortars were used to fill in the crevices between the wooden planks.

For small boats or dug-out canoes, large trees must be felled in order to build them. Once the logs are cut and chiseled into shapes, they would be heated with fires to make the woods soft so that the middle sections of the canoes could be stretched out and enlarged. This kind of boat is called Koy-lang which could ferry quite a number of people.

33) The Provinces
Cambodia has more than 90 provinces. Among them are: Cheng-pu, Chhanam, Pakang, Mung-leang, Poch-shi, Phov-muoy, Tihoung, Paklutpor, Naika-khang, Poch-shili, etc. There are many other provinces whose names I didn’t remember. Each province has a fortress, and a governor is appointed to rule over its populace.

34) The Villages
Every Cambodian village usually has a temple or a religious monument. Each village has a village chief called Bouy-si to oversee the daily affairs. Along major roadways, one would frequently find rest houses called Sinpak (Pteah Samnak) built next to them. Lately, because of war with Siam, some villages had been razed to the ground.

35) Gallbladders’ Collection
Some time ago, when the 8th month arrived, a group of people would go about in the middle of the night to kidnap and cut off gallbladders from people who were out and about at night. It is said that the gallbladders are collected as suzerainty to be sent to the king of Champa.

For those unfortunate souls who dared venturing out at night, they would be met with ropes tying around their heads and a knife stab under their right armpits where their gallbladders would be removed. Once enough gallbladders were collected, they would be sent off to Champa. On one occasion, a gallbladder belonging to a Chinese person was collected, and the addition of his gallbladder into the mixture caused spoilages to other gallbladders which rendered them useless. Ever since that incidence, no other Chinese gallbladders were ever taken again.

Afterward, the task of gallbladder’s collection was left with appointed officials who were stationed near the northern gate on the edge of the city.
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle; To be Continued) 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fables and Folktales

រឿង សេះនិងលា

(បទ បន្ទោលកាក)
នេះនឹងថ្លាថ្លែង            រៀបរាប់សម្តែងវាចា
ពីសេះនិងលា              ចរចាកលីលាត្រសង ។
សេះដើរជំទើត             ងើបក្បាលខ្ពស់អើតឥតហ្មង
អង្រួនចង្រ្កង                បង្អួតអ្នកផងគ្រប់គ្នា ។
ចំណែកលាសត្វ          តូចចិត្តពេកក្តាត់ក្រៃណា
ដ្បិតអីរូបវា                   មិនឡូយសង្ហាដូចសេះ ។
គ្មានចង្ក្រងពាក់            ខ្លួនប្រាណសោតជាក់ស្រមេះ
ប្រឡាក់ដោយផេះ        ធំក្លិនឆ្អាបឆ្អេះកន្លង ។
ថ្ងៃមួយនោះណា          ស្រុកមានបញ្ហាសៅហ្មង
សត្រូវយង់ឃ្នង             ចូលមកលុកលុយយាយី ។
អ្នកស្រុកច្រើននាក់       មានចិត្តស្មោះស្ម័គ្រមូលមី
តាមតួនាទី                    ចេញច្បាំងការពាររដ្ឋា ។
គ្រានោះសេះត្រូវ           បានគេយកទៅធ្វើជា
ជំនិះនៃមហា                 មេទ័ពហានក្លា ចក្រី ។
នៅលើសមរភូមិ            សេះបានប្រឈមយកជ័យ
លោតច្រំធាក់ផាយ        សត្រូវខ្ចាត់ខ្ចាយវឹកវរ ។
តែគួរឲ្យស្តាយ                សត្រូវនៅឆ្ងាយអាចឈរ
បាញ់ព្រួញតបត             ត្រូវចំបំពង់កសេះ ។
របួសធ្ងន់ក្រៃ                   សេះមិនអាចផាយគេចវេះ
ត្រូវព្រួញចាក់ស្រេះ        បានដល់នូវក្តីមរណា ។
ពេលនោះសត្វលា         បានឃើញហេតុការណ៍ពិស្តារ
គិតពិចារណា                 ថាឱ ! អនិច្ចាកម្មកាយ ។
សេះសង្ហាពិត                 តែក្នុងជីវិតអាចក្លាយ
ជាទ័ពជាញជ័យ             ត្រូវគ្រាប់ព្រួញក្ស័យសង្ខារ ៕

រស់ជាជនសាមញ្ញដែលមានសុខ ប្រសើរជាង
រស់ជាជនមានមុខដែលអាចជួបគ្រោះថ្នាក់ ។

Monday, January 7, 2013


រឿង ទន្សាយមានមិត្តសម្លាញ់ច្រើន

ទន្សាយមួយមានសត្វជាច្រើន រាប់អានវាជាមិត្ត ។ ថ្ងៃមួយ វាបានឮ
សម្លេងចចកមួយហ្វូងលូហៅគ្នា ដើម្បីដើរស្វែងរកចំណី នៅក្បែរកន្លែង
ដែលវារស់នៅ ។ ដោយយល់ថា គ្រោះអាសន្ននឹងអាចកើតមាន ដល់
ជីវិតរបស់វា ទន្សាយក៏បានទៅសុំជិះលើខ្នងសេះ ដើម្បីគេចពីហ្វូង
ចចកកំណាច ។ នៅពេលបានដឹងថា ទន្សាយសុំជិះលើខ្នងវា ដើម្បី
គេចពីហ្វូងចចក សេះក៏ឆ្លើយដោះខ្លួនថាៈ វាជាប់រវល់ជួយធ្វើកិច្ចការ
ឲ្យម្ចាស់វា មិនអាចជួយដោះទុក្ខធុរៈទន្សាយបានទេ ។ “យើងជឿថា”
សេះនិយាយទៅកាន់ទន្សាយ “មិត្តដទៃប្រាកដជាអាច ជួយដោះទុក្ខ
ធុរៈឯងបានជាមិនខាន” ។ បន្ទាប់មក ទន្សាយក៏ទៅពឹងគោ ព្រោះគោ
មានស្នែងមុតស្រួច អាចធ្វើឲ្យចចកខ្លាចបាន ។ ប៉ុន្តែ គោឆ្លើយដោះសា
ថាៈ វារវល់មានការណាត់ជួបសង្សារ ។ ឮដូច្នោះ ទន្សាយក៏ទៅពឹងពពែ
ព្រោះពពែធ្លាប់រត់លេងជាមួយវា និងជាមិត្តជិតស្និទ្ធនឹងវាជាងគេ ។ នៅ
ពេលដែលពពែ បានឮទន្សាយសុំជិះលើខ្នងវា ដើម្បីគេចពីហ្វូងចចក
វាក៏សម្តែងនូវការព្រួយបារម្ភថាៈ រោមវាខ្លីណាស់ បើនឹងឲ្យទន្សាយជិះ
លើខ្នងវានោះ ក្រែងលោរអិលជើងធ្លាក់មក នាំឲ្យបាក់ដៃបាក់ជើង ។ “សម្លាញ់គួរទៅសុំជិះលើខ្នងចៀមវិញ” ពពែប្រាប់ទន្សាយ “ព្រោះចៀម
មានរោមក្រាស់ ហើយវែងទៀត” ។ លុះឮពពែប្រាប់ដូច្នោះ ទន្សាយក៏
ទៅពឹងចៀមឲ្យជួយសង្គ្រោះវា ។ ពេលនោះ ចៀមបានប្រាប់ទន្សាយថា៖
“សុំទោសសម្លាញ់ យើងមិនចង់លូកដៃចូលក្នុងរឿងនេះទេ ព្រោះនរណា
ក៏ដឹងដែរថា ចចកចូលចិត្តស៊ីសាច់ចៀម ក៏ដូចជាសាច់ទន្សាយដែរ” ។
ខណៈនោះ សម្លេងលូនៃហ្វូងចចក ក៏បានខិតកាន់តែជិតមក ។ ដោយ
អស់ជំនឿ ទៅលើទឹកចិត្តសប្បុរសរបស់មិត្តភក្តិវា ទន្សាយក៏ដាក់
មេផាយយ៉ាងលឿន រហូតដល់ទីបំផុត វាបានគេចផុតពីគ្រោះ
មហន្តរាយ ៕
អ្នកមានមិត្តដែលគ្មានចិត្ត តាមពិតគ្មានមិត្តពិតប្រាកដទេ

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Marching Toward the Inferno (Cont.)
The oxcart convoy took us through a few rural villages which were separated from one another by spans of rice fields. As darkness fell we arrived in a village where a few men, presumably village’s officials, were directing the oxcart traffic. One man carried a torch which appeared to be made from a few small sticks of woods held together in his hand. The wooden torch burned amazingly well as if it had been dipped in gasoline. As the man raised his torch to identify our oxcart’s driver, I could see the oily substances oozing on the sticks along the edge of the flame. It appeared that the village’s officials were looking for oxcart drivers who were members of their village being sent to fetch us. They would direct each driver to take us to be left at such and such home. Those drivers whom they couldn’t identify, they would let them go on. As our oxcart’s driver was being directed to take us to one of the villager’s homes, my parents inquired about Aunt Muoy’s oxcart, if it was also from the village where we would be lodging? The village’s officials confirmed our inquiry as they directed the driver to take Aunt Muoy, her husband, Kun, and their belongings to another villager’s home. Thus, under the cover of darkness, we parted company from Aunt Muoy and her husband at that point.

Our oxcart came to a stop in front of a fairly large house built on stilts. There were a few water buffalos being kept under the house, as it was a common practice for farmers to use the ground under their homes as shelters for farm animals. As soon as we arrived in front of the house, a middle-aged couple, presumably the home owners, with torches in their hands came down to greet and welcome us into their home as if we were their long lost relatives. The couple told us to bring our belongings upstairs as they held up the torches to illuminate the staircase. One corner of the house had been neatly arranged for us as sleeping quarters. It appeared that our hosts had been prepared and properly choreographed by Khmer Rouge officials to provide hospitality for us. There was a small metal container flickering with flame inside, sitting in the middle of the house. The container was some sort of a homemade open fireplace that served as lighting for the house as well as keeping the inhabitants warm during cooler times. After we settled down, our hosts spent a few minutes to chat with us, telling us what to do should our needs, especially our bodily biological functions, arise. They told us to light up the sticks lying next to the stove to use as torches to find our way to the outhouse, which was located in the backyard behind the house, should we need to go use it during the night. As soon as the burning wood, which was the subject of our curiosity since our arrival in the village, was mentioned, my father took the opportunity to ask our hosts what kind of wood it was. Our hosts told us that those burning woods were cut off from a kind of pine tree called Srall which was grown deep in the jungle.

That night, perhaps due to our fatigue from a long day of traveling, we slept rather well. The morning arrived with the sounds of rooster’s crowing. Our hosts got up early to prepare breakfast for us which consisted of porridge and smoked dried fish, Trey Ngeat. As we emerged outside to survey our surrounding, we were greeted by our neighbors who appeared to be as much curious about the way we looked and acted as we were about them. Our hosts, Om Son and his wife Om Po, introduced us to their neighbors and, at the same time, gave us a sort of an orientation on how villagers conducted their daily routines as farmers. Most of our hosts’ neighbors were related to one another. The families living in the houses next door, both to the left and to the right of our house, were Om Po’s cousin and sibling respectively, while the ones living in the house across the street were her parents. There was a well in front of her parents’ house where the ten or so families who lived nearby would come to draw the water for consumption. During our initial interaction with our hosts and neighbors, we learned that the village in which we were was called Ponlear Chey. It was located on a dirt path along the Staung River about six miles off National Highway 6 in Kompong Thom province. According to our host villagers, we learned that there were many more settlements along the Staung River going upstream northward all the way to the Dangrek Mountain’s escarpment. While we were interacting with our hosts, my parents took the opportunity to inquire about Aunt Muoy’s and her husband’s whereabouts and, to their relief, learned that they were being lodged with a family who lived near the end of the village about 20 houses away from us.

Our hosts, Om Son and Om Po, had five children, two girls and three boys, ranging in ages from 1 to 12 years old. The oldest child, a girl named Pon, was about my age. The next one, a boy named Oss, was 10, followed by another girl named Kne, who was 8, and the two youngest children, Phal who was 5, and the toddler, Pheung. Among the five children, Kne was the most rambunctious and difficult fellow for us to get along with, especially, Buntha and I, who were her peers. She became my nemesis and tormentor throughout those trying years of our sojourn in her home. I sometimes got into serious quarrels with her stemming from her hyperactive behavior and my frequently running out of patience. Thanks in part to the cool headedness of her parents, especially, Om Son, I was reprieved from getting into serious trouble. One particular incident with Kne that I would never forget for the rest of my life was an unintentional injury I inflicted on her. The episode started with her picking hot pieces of rocky soil from the fireplace to throw at Buntha and me while the three of us were home alone. After telling her to stop doing so failed, I grabbed Buntha’s hand and ran downstairs to get away from her. In her stubborn hyperactive impulse, Kne continued to pursue us downstairs like cat and mouse. Her persistent bullying finally shattered my patience. In one of the silliest lapses of judgment on my part, I picked up a semi-dried mango seed which was discarded nearby and throw it at her. The mango seed hit her right in the face just above her left eye. She screamed at the top of her lungs, in pain. In a panic, I grabbed Buntha’s hand and ran to hide behind a bamboo thicket in the backyard. From our hiding place, I heard Om Po ran from across the street to inquire what had happened. Kne told her mother, Om Po, her version of the story. At that moment, my instinct kicked in and I realized that I should come out to confront my predicament head on. I grabbed Buntha’s hand and walked back to the house surreptitiously. Standing downstairs, I said my apology to Om Po and pathetically told the full story of the incident. Om Po was blind with rage at that point. In response to my apologetic story, she threatened me with gouging out one of my eyes should my stupid action cause her daughter, Kne, to lose one side of her eyesight.

That day, Buntha and I stayed quietly in the backyard until early evening when we crept back upstairs to wait for our mother’s return from work in anticipation of either scolding or punishment from her upon learning of my out of character behavior. But, to our utmost surprise, Om Po did not bring up the incident to either my mother or her husband, Om Son. Despite the obvious swelling on Kne’s left eyebrow, nobody seemed to care to inquire what had happened to her. It was as if Kne deserved it; or it was no big deal for Kne to have a black eye. Though the incident appeared trivial, it could nevertheless have a serious consequence on our lives as new people, for it had happened in the last quarter of 1977. At that time, new people in Ponlear Chey village were being rounded up and executed. All that was needed for us to be taken away for execution was a word from our hosts that we were not fit to live among them. I remember during that worrisome period, my mother explicitly warned us to never do anything that might displease our hosts or any other base people in general for the sake of our safety.

The people of Ponlear Chey were probably direct descendants of the Angkorian Khmer population whose settlements stretched from the Korat’s plateau which is now the Issan region of Thailand, to the southern part of Battambang province, Cambodia, with Siem Reap province, and Angkor stood in the middle as the cultural center. One common bond among the people who settled along this corridor was the Khmer language spoken with a distinct dialect and accent which sometimes left other Khmer speakers searching for proper or equivalent meanings in amusement. Beside the primitive lifestyles such as using wood to burn as torches or as illuminating light at home at night and a lacquer-sealing basket to scoop water from the well, there were a number of odd and strange things that we needed to learn in order to readjust our lives to fit into yet another alien way of life on top of the Khmer Rouge’s utopian society. The first order of businesses for all of us, new people, who had been dropped off in almost every house in the village, was to quickly learn the village’s way of life. A quick survey of the materials being used around the houses and in the village revealed that we were being sent back in time to live in fourteenth or fifteenth century Cambodia. Because of the lack of materials, such as metal and plastic, which might have resulted from the civil war and the isolation of the village, people in Ponlear Chey mostly used wood and vines to forge some farm tools and household utensils. One of these marvelous utensils which impressed me the most was the water bucket called Kruos. It was made from bamboo skins weaved neatly in the shape of a rice measurement container called Tao. As a matter of fact, the two products looked identical except that Kruos had a lacquered coating over its skin to keep water from leaking out. Another indication of our traveling back in time to 15th century Cambodia was the way villagers dressed themselves. Perhaps due to the civil war which cut off access to commodities, many people in the village walked around barefoot and had few clothes to cover themselves. Most men used a piece of cloth called Kansaeng or Krama to wrap around the lower half of their bodies while leaving the upper half bare. As for the women folks, usually married women with children, they used a piece of cloth called Sampot to wrap around the lower half of their body and the Krama to wrap around and cover their bosoms. What was even more amazing to me was that people still used the ancient method to produce yarn from raw cotton. I remembered one day I saw our host, Om Po, bring out a small bag of cotton and a tiny homemade spinning wheel. She laid out a homemade mat, which was made from a plant leaves called Rumchek , right in the middle of the house and began to process the raw cotton into yarn. She used an instrument which looked like a bow to break the cotton fibers into individual strains and piled them up in a basket container. Afterwards, she set up the spinning wheel and began to twist the cotton fibers into yarn. Once all the cotton fibers had been spun into yarn, she brought out a tiny loom which looked nothing like the loom I had seen before and proceeded to weave the yarn into a small blanket. It has been more than 30 years now since I witnessed this rudimentary weaving, but I still remember vividly that Om Po tied one end of the yarn around her waist as she proceeded to weave that small blanket. What surprised me the most about this extraordinary scene was that 30 years later when I was doing research to write a book called The Cambodian Royal Chronicle (Vantage Press, 2009), I stumbled upon a report by a Chinese envoy named Chou Ta-Kuan who had visited Cambodia in 1297. His report, entitled The Customs of Cambodia, described the exact scene I had witnessed in this Cambodian village of Ponlear Chey as a teenager.
(To Be Continued)

Om Po and the author, during their reunion in 2011 under the very house described in the story

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

21) Popular Imported Chinese Products

Many Chinese products are highly sought after in Cambodia. Among these are: gold and silver products, colorful clothes, lead from Cheng Pui, tea tray from Oujiv, floral decorated vases from Jujiv, henna, paper, bronze, umbrellas, combs, needles, pots, ginseng roots, and deer glands, etc. In addition, people also like large decorative mats made in Meng Jiv, which are rare, for it is difficult to transport them from China to Cambodia.

22) Trees and Vegetations
Cambodia and China have many plants in common such as pomegranates, sugarcane, lotuses, bananas, and parsley, etc. Lychees and tangerines are similar to those found in China except that they taste a bit sour. Other than that, there are a lot of trees which are unique to Cambodia. Beside trees, Cambodia also has a variety of exotic flowers. Some flowers, whose names I did not know, even grow in water. As for some trees such as Thau-li, Hengbouy, Songbek, Samkway, Leychow, Eangliv, Kuylang, and Keklouy, they are not found in Cambodia. In this country, lotus flowers could be found even in the first month of the year.

23) Birds
There are birds such as peacocks, kingfishers, and doves, which are not commonly sighted in China. In addition, there are also a lot of kites, ravens, vultures, parrots, sparrows, pelicans, egrets, waterfowls, and weaverbirds, etc. Some other birds which are commonly sighted in China, but I have not seen in this country, are Hingtov (canaries?), Hong Eang (wild geese), Eung Eng (yellow hawks), and Tov Ou (swallows).

24) Quadruped Animals
Cambodia has a variety of wild animals such as rhinoceros, elephants, and wild oxen (ko prey), which are not found in China. Other than that, tigers, janets, bears, boars, deers, and foxes are found in abundant. However, Cambodia does not have camels and sing-sing lions (giant pandas?). As for chickens, ducks, pigs, horses, oxen, and goats, they could be found everywhere. But the Cambodian horses and oxen are very short and small. The Cambodians hold oxen and cows in high regard. When a cow or an ox dies, people do not take its meat or skin for consumption. They would rather leave it to rot away out of respect for its services to mankind.
Before, there were no swans in Cambodia. But, nowadays, people have brought them from China, and one would occasionally see swans commingle with flocks of other domestic animals. The Cambodian rats are as large as cats. There is a kind of rats which have wide large heads looking somewhat like puppies.

25) Vegetable Produces
Cambodia has a variety of vegetables such as ong choy, cabbages, chives, egg plants, water melons, winter melons, squashes, and cucumbers, etc. However, other produces such as daika, green spinach, khov cheng, and po-leng are not found in Cambodia. Egg plants, water melons, cucumbers, and winter melons, etc., are plentiful. Some egg plant’s plants are left to grow for many, many years. Some kapok trees are left to grow taller than houses. Many of these trees are more than 10 years old, and nobody has cut them down. There are many other vegetables whose names I do not know. Some vegetables grow in water.

26) Fish and Reptiles
Cambodia has numerous species of fish, turtles, and other amphibians. Among the most abundant are snakeheads and catfishes. As for small fishes, they could be found in great numbers. Most of these fishes are from the freshwater sea (Tonle Sap Lake). As for ocean fishes, they are also found in abundant. Some of them look like fresh water eels and mud fish. The Cambodians do not eat frogs; hence, they are found everywhere, even in the streets. Turtles and soft-shell tortoises are as big as umbrellas. People eat both turtles and tortoises no matter how old they are.
Lobsters from Che-nam (Kompong Chhnang) province could weigh as heavy as 3 pounds. Some turtle’s legs could reach as high as 2 feet. As for some crocodiles, they are as big as a boat. There is also a kind of four-legged dragon which has no horns. Bivalves and mollusks in the freshwater sea (Tonle Sap Lake) are so abundant that one could just use bare hands to catch them from the shallow bottom of the lake. However, I have not seen any crab. Perhaps there are some, but people don’t catch them for consumption.

27) Alcohol Production
There are four major kinds of alcoholic beverages. The best one is made from fermented honey mixed with water and some medicinal herbs. Another one is called Pheng ke-shih which is made by fermenting and extracting flavor from the leaves of Pheng ke-shih trees. The third kind of alcohol is called Pavleng-kak which made from left over rice. The fourth kind is a sugar-based alcohol which is made by mixing sugar and water for fermentation. If one went to the villages along the rivers, one would find another kind of alcoholic beverage which is made by extracting flavor from a plant called kro-chab.
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle; To be Continued)